August 24, 2017
One of our most experienced consultants (Gill Kernick) was deeply affected by the recent fire in the tower block in London. She works collaboratively to build the leadership capability to shape cultures and unlock potential and performance. Ensuring the voice of the front-line worker is heard by senior executives is a focus of her work, Gill has a passion for developing the leadership capability and culture needed to prevent major accidents.
This is her story.
“I love North Kensington. It’s one of the most diverse, complex and ambiguous boroughs in London. In 2011, my husband and I moved to London and rented an apartment on the 22nd floor of Grenfell Tower. We lived there until 2014. There began my love of high rise living – for the views and for the community.
Three families with children lived on our floor, they would laugh and play outside the lifts. We’d leave the front door open and they’d run in and out in fits of giggles. We weren’t close friends, just good neighbors. Yassin, the oldest son of one of the families, used to talk to me about starting a business. In an area, full of gangs and drugs, he wanted to make the most of life. Yassin, his two sisters and his parents all died in the fire. He was 21.
As I watched the fire from our home nearby, I vowed to do what it takes to make lasting systemic change.
In the days following the tragedy, I was struck by the similarities in this tragedy to many major accidents (low probability, high consequence events) in high hazard industries.
I did an interview on the 17 June, with Matthew Price on the BBC Today Programme where I said;
"There are two lessons that particularly stand out for me. Number one is that in major accidents you typically find cultures where people do not feel free to speak up, or are not heard. From what we're hearing about this tragedy, it seems this may have been the case at Grenfell. The residents do not appear to have been listened to, responded to, or taken seriously. From a cultural perspective that's common in a lot of major accidents. Another thing is that we have to get beyond blame and think about the systemic, cultural and leadership issues that actually led to decisions being made. So, if we just end up saying, “Oh well, it's because of the cladding or it's because of this, and we need to hold people culpable for what they've done.” This isn't going to promote learning”. There's broader systemic issues that need to be addressed. We need to understand what kind of competing tensions people were facing. Why did they choose the cheaper cladding not the more expensive cladding? What do you need to do to create a culture and a system that is founded on true care?
I’m increasingly convinced that there is both a practical and moral imperative to bring the lessons learned from major accident prevention in high hazard industries to other sectors. Then we can enable lasting systemic change to ensure that such a tragedy never happens again. I submitted this view as part of the Public Consultation into the Terms of Reference for the Public Inquiry announced by the Prime Minister into this tragedy. You can view the document here.
I’ve engaged with local community leaders, lawyers, civil servants and journalists around these ideas and I’m moved every day by the desire for real and lasting change.
The challenge is enormous, the possibility huge and the price of failure too devastating to contemplate.”
Please contact Gill Kernick, Sue Steele, or Chloe Handley if you would like to be part of the systemic change. For more information about JMJ, please visit here.